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Illustration describing the three warning signs of stroke. FAST= Face Drooping, Arm Weakness, Speech difficulties, Time to call 911.

Learn how to identify the warning signs of a stroke, the importance of knowing your numbers and how to discuss concerns with your doctor.

What is a stroke? A stroke is a disease of the brain. A stroke occurs when a blood vessel cannot carry enough oxygen and nutrients to the brain. Brain cells die when the brain does not get enough oxygen.

What causes a stroke? A stroke is caused by a blood clot that prevents the flow of blood to the brain or when a blood vessel bursts.

Warning Signs

Here are some warning signs of a stroke.

  • Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body
  • Sudden confusion or trouble talking or slurred speech
  • Sudden trouble seeing out of one or both eyes
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness or loss of balance or coordination
  • Sudden severe headache with no known cause
  • Double vision
  • Drowsiness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Transient ischemic attack (TIA)  or mini-stroke
    • Similar symptoms as a stroke
    • Symptoms last less than 24 hours
    • Does not cause permanent damage to the brain
    • A warning sign that a stroke will possibly occur


Act FAST if a person shows physical signs of a stroke.

  • Face: Drooping on one side of the face (Ask a person to smile.)
  • Arms: One arm is weak or numb (ask a person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?)
  • Speech: Slurred speech (ask a person to repeat a simple sentence. Is the sentence repeated correctly?)
  • Time: Immediately call 911 if any of the above signs occur.

Risk Factors

Uncontrollable Risk Factors

  • These factors can increase your chances of having a stroke and cannot be controlled.
  • Age: A stroke can occur in all age groups. 
  • Gender: Men are more likely to have a stroke. Female are more likely to die from a stroke.
  • Race: Strokes occur the most in African Americans
  • Family history: Some family members will have higher rates of controllable stroke risk factors   

Controllable Risk Factors

These factors can increase your chances of having a stroke. However, they can be controlled.

  • High blood pressure or hypertension
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Heart Disease
  • TIA or stroke warning signs
  • Diabetes
  • High cholesterol
  • Physical inactivity
  • Obesity

Know Your Numbers

“Know your numbers” means that you should know your cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure levels.

Cholesterol Profile

Total Cholesterol

  • Normal: Less than 200 mg/dL
  • Borderline high: 200 to 239 mg/dL
  • High: At or above 240 mg/dL

HDL (good) Cholesterol

  • Normal Levels
    • Men: 35 to 65 mg/dL
    • Women: 35 to 80 mg/dL
      • Less than 25 mg/dL, risk for coronary heart disease is doubled.
      • Between 60 and 74 mg/dL, the risk for coronary heart disease is below average.

LDL (bad) Cholesterol

  • Normal: Less than 100 mg/dL
  • Acceptable for people with no health issues: 100-129 mg/dL
  • Borderline high: 130-159 mg/dL
  • High: 160-189 mg/dL
  • Very high: 190 mg/dL or above


  • Normal: Less than 150 mg/dL
  • Borderline high: 150-199 mg/dL
  • High: 200-499 mg/dL
  • Very high: 500 mg/dL or higher

Blood Sugar Levels (Blood glucose)

  • Before Meals: 70-130 mg/dL
  • 2 hours after starting a meal: Less than 180 mg/dL
  • A1C Level: Less than 7%

Note: A1C is a blood test used to diagnose and manage diabetes.


High Blood Pressure (HBP - Hypertension)

RangesSystolic mm Hg (upper #)Diastolic mm Hg (lower #)
NormalLess than 120Less than 80
Elevated120–129Less than 80
HBP (Stage 1)130–13980–89
HBP (Stage 2)140 or higher90 or higher
HBP (Crisis)Higher than 180Higher than 120

Obesity Ranges (Body Mass Index- BMI)

Weight RangeBMIObesity Level
NormalLess than 120Less than 80
Elevated120–129Less than 80
HBP (Stage 1)130–13980–89
HBP (Stage 2)140 or higher90 or higher
HBP (Crisis)Higher than 180Higher than 120

Healthy food for heart. Fresh fish, fruits, vegetables, berries and nuts. Healthy food, diet and healthy body concept.


Eating nutritious meals will help you to manage your weight and to avoid chronic diseases like stroke, high blood pressure, or diabetes.

  • Consume more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins (lean meats, fish, poultry, beans, and legumes), low fat or fat-free dairy.
  • Limit or eliminate the intake of fried foods.
  • Limit sugary foods and beverages.
  • Limit salt/sodium intake.
  • Limit the intake of saturated fats, trans fats, and foods high in cholesterol.

Health Literacy

When to ask questions

You can ask questions when:

  • You see your doctor, nurse or pharmacist.
  • You prepare for a medical test or procedure.
  • You get your medicine.

What if I ask and I still don’t understand?

  • Let your doctor, nurse or pharmacist know if you still don’t understand.
  • You might say, “This is new to me. Will you please explain that to me one more time?”

Your Doctor, Nurse & Pharmacist Want  to Answer Your Questions

Are you nervous to ask your health provider questions? Don’t be. You may be surprised to learn that your medical team wants you to let them know that you need help. Like all of us, doctors have busy schedules. However, your doctor wants you to know:

  • All you can about your condition.
  • Why this is important for your health.
  • Steps to take to keep your condition under control.

Be ready to ask questions!

  • What is my main problem?
  • What do I need to do?
  • Why is it important for me to do this?

Other questions to ask:

  • What is a stroke?
  • What are the symptoms of a stroke?
  • What are the risk factors for having a stroke?
  • How is a stroke diagnosed?
  • What are the treatment options for stroke?
  • How can strokes be prevented?
  • How common are strokes?
  • Are strokes hereditary?


Alabama Public Health. (n.d.). Alabama stroke system. Retrieved from http://www.alabamapublichealth.gov/strokesystem/assets/StrokeBrochure.pdf.

American Diabetes Association. (2018, January 17). Tight diabetes control. Retrieved from http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/treatment-and-care/blood-glucose-control/tight-diabetes-control.html.

American Heart Association. (n.d.). Blood pressure categories. Retrieved from https://www.heart.org/-/media/files/health-topics/high-blood-pressure/hbp-rainbow-chart-english-pdf-ucm_499220.pdf.

American Heart Association. (n.d.). Understanding blood pressure readings? Retrieved from https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/high-blood-pressure/understanding-blood-pressure-readings.

American Stroke Association. (2019). Stroke risk quiz. Retrieved from https://www.strokeassociation.org/en/professionals/stroke-resource-library/prevention/heat-stroke-vs-stroke/stroke-risk-quiz-english.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2017, April 11). Defining adult overweight and obesity. Overweight and Obesity. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/adult/defining.html.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018, March 27). Preventing stroke: Healthy living. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/stroke/healthy_living.htm.

Fletcher, J. (2017, February 20). What should my cholesterol level be at my age? Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/315900.php.

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes. Brain basics: Preventing stroke. (2019, January 31). NIH Publication No. 11-3440b. Retrieved from https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Preventing-Stroke#Do%20You%20Know%20Your%20Stroke%20Risk.

National Stroke Association. (2019). Diet and nutrition. Retrieved from https://www.stroke.org/we-can-help/survivors/stroke-recovery/life-style/diet-and-nutrition/.

National Stroke Association. (2019). What is TIA? Retrieved from https://www.stroke.org/understand-stroke/what-is-stroke/what-is-tia/.

United States Department of Health and Human Services. Brain basics: Preventing stroke. Retrieved from  https://www.ninds.nih.gov/sites/default/files/Brain_Basics-Preventing_Stroke_brochure_508C.pdf.


Download a PDF of kNOw to Stroke, UNP-2125.

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